The A-Frame you know and love, Roy Choi's I-Hop frame turned blond wooded modern picnic haven, will reopen as Choi's version of an L.A.-skewed Hawaiian restaurant on Friday.
After five years of turning out the famous cracklin' beer can chicken, pickle plates and green curry-coconut milk clam chowder, Choi felt it was time for a change. He brought in a new chef last September, Johnny Yoo (Lukshon, Melisse and Drago Centro to name a few), updated the restaurant's look with some Hawaiian touches (including vintage longboards found by partner Dave Reiss and murals by artist Eric Junker), and is now ready to say aloha to the L.A. dining scene.
Choi says locals kept the restaurant in business for the last two to three years after the initial opening rush. In an effort to get people to come back to the Westside, the restaurant introduced all-you-can-eat pancakes and all-you-can-eat beer can chicken. But it wasn't enough for Choi.
"We lost that darling rush," said Choi. "At the same time, we're not trying to completely take all our clothes off and sell ourselves either. We have to stay true to what A-Frame is. Our whole business the last three years has been the locals; you don't know how much this is hurting them. To be honest, it's been a little bit of an emotional roller coaster."
The idea to go Hawaiian came from Yoo, a native Angeleno who, after college, spent years living in Hawaii eating at comfort food spots Side Street Inn and Zippy's.
"My first reaction was, don't touch my baby," said Choi. "A-Frame is a part of L.A. history, you can't touch this. But then I started thinking about it and thought, you know what, that's actually a really good idea."
Other than the A-Frame original furikake popcorn, which Choi refers to as "the OG one" and which was inspired by Choi's first trip to the movies in Hawaii, the menu has completely changed to include Yoo and Choi's homage to Hawaiian food. But Choi makes it very clear that this is, for the most part, Yoo's food.
"I'm really acting as a producer on this, but I'm here," said Choi. "I was here really as a coach to guide him through the flavors, some of the last details. he's been lifting most of the heavy bricks."
The end result is a mix of traditional Hawaiian comfort food and the ethnic, culture mash culinary twister Choi is famous for. Pupus (appetizers) include Hush Poippies made with taro, potato, white cheddar, Parmesan and sweet chile sauce; Big John Chili Rice Cakes (inspired by the chili rice at Zippy's) made with beef chili, crispy Korean rice cake, white cheddar, sour cream, chive and pineapple; Saimin Says (a take on a Hawaiian Saimin) made with bonito broth, Portuguese sausage, a 65-degree-egg, fish brochette and fresh herbs; and the Loco Moco, with a hamburger steak, rice, Japanese curry gravy, a sunny-side egg and pickled pearl onions.
"Anyone who has eaten at Zippy's in Hawaii will understand what I'm talking about," said Choi.
You can also expect a rotating menu of poke, musubi and desserts that include a butter mochi cake with dulce de leche, pickled Cara Cara oranges, candied orange peel and mint.
Accompanying the food are cocktails by Dan McClary (Westside Tavern), including the Zombie Isle, made with bourbon barrel rum, Hawaiian dark rum, lime, orange, apricot and absinthe; and the Lei Me Down, made with Cachaca, Lilikoi, lime, lemon, orange and 24-ounce cans of Primo beer, straight from Hawaii. You can also expect beer cocktails in the near future.
"If you took Zippy's and mixed it with some L.A. OG Kush, and you mixed it with the breeze from Venice pier and our attitude, and our whole style here in L.A. -- if you mix those things together and created a child, that's what this is."
12565 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 398-7700, www.aframela.com.
Kimchi quesadilla lover for life. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_ .